Audrey has a lot of interesting acquaintances, many of whom work in the music industry in some capacity. One in particular will occasionally invite us to attend a random social event, and when he does it’s invariably a good idea to say “yes”, because it’s going to be a worthwhile evening. Last Monday he asked us to join him for a screening of the rock documentary “We are Twisted F***ing Sister“, and while under normal circumstances my response to anything related to Twisted Sister would probably vary between indifference and active hostility, when Brian asks the correct answer is always an emphatic “YES”.
The theater showing the film was a tiny, one-screen place in Hollywood that gave me flashbacks to college days and the CWRU Film Society – the dingy interior was much like Strosacker auditorium, the disheveled, mostly-male crowd would have fit in perfectly with the engineering geeks I spent four years with, and even the promos before the documentary had the same vibe as what was shown in college – one in particular featured a lengthy and creepy cult initiation scene followed by the words “Join Us” flashing across the screen with information about becoming a member of the theater’s film society.
The documentary is a must-watch for anyone under the misconception that becoming a rock star is easy. During the 1970s and early 1980s Twisted Sister literally played thousands of sold-out shows in clubs in New York, and did so six nights a week, every week, for ten years before they finally got a record deal. Unlike the stereotypical metal band, neither the group’s lead singer or guitarist/founder drank or did drugs, and the documentary made clear that from the beginning they were completely self-aware that music alone wouldn’t create success, and that their job was to do everything conceivable to give people a reason to show up and buy a ticket. Whether it was their over-the-top showmanship, a surprisingly intelligent advertising strategy, the ability to pragmatically deal with adversity, or whatever else might go into becoming a successful band, Twisted Sister thought about it, attacked it, and figured out how to succeed. By the time the documentary showed the group having been together for ten years, performing their hearts out night after night, they might as well have been Rocky saying he just wanted to go the distance against Apollo Creed, with every person in the theater solidly on their side.
Following the show, Dee Snider (the band’s lead singer) did a short Q&A, and turned out to be whip-smart. At one point someone mentioned having been at a Twisted Sister show in Long Beach thirty-five years ago, and Snider not only remembered the show but was still angry at some lady who had been in the audience and dumped an ashtray over the balcony railing. When asked what motivated him during ten years in which Twisted Sister was able to easily fill venues holding 2-3,000 people in New York, yet still wasn’t given the time of day by record companies, he amusingly responded that he was driven by “hatred”, and not in a dark, vengeful way, but simply that he was so angry at everyone who told him he couldn’t make it that it just made him work harder to prevent them from ever being right.
You hear a lot of stories about rock and roll bands being full of themselves or not realizing their good fortune, and while there are plenty of faults to find with Twisted Sister, no one can begrudge them their success – they knew what they were, they worked relentlessly, and very much earned their eventual moment in the spotlight. Putting another spin on it, if a band known for being obnoxious and performing while dressed like women can get this relatively conservative kid from Ohio on their side, clearly there’s a backstory that’s worth celebrating.